A Great Mystery: Stories from Catching Gods Heart

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I can tell you, now, that it still looks like a cracker and a cup of wine.

Poetry in a Time of Protest

The miracle part came down to philosophy. When I consecrated the Host and the wine at Mass, the very substance of the elements changed; it was the other properties — the shape, the taste, the size — that remained the same. Just like John the Baptist saw a man and knew, right away, that he was looking at God; just like the wise men came upon a baby and knew He was Our Savior…every day I held what looked like crackers and wine, but which actually was Jesus. For this very reason, from this point on in the Mass, my fingers and thumb would be kept pinched together until washed after Communion.

Not even the tiniest particle of the consecrated Host could be lost; we went to great pains to make sure of this when disposing of the leftovers from communion. But just as I was thinking this, the wafer slipped out of my hand. Frozen, I watched the Host tumble, safely, into the belly of the chalice of wine. The wine had already begun to soak into the wafer. I watched, amazed, as a jaw took shape, an ear, an eyebrow. Father Walter had visions. He said that the reason he became a priest in the first place was because, as an altar boy, a statue of Jesus had reached for his robe and tugged, telling him to stay the course.

More recently, Mary had appeared to him in the rectory kitchen when he was frying trout, and suddenly they began leaping in the pan. I stared at the wafer, hoping the wine-sketched features would solidify into a portrait of Jesus…and instead I found myself looking at something else entirely. The dark brows, the nose broken while wrestling in junior high, the razor stubble. What is my head doing on the body of Christ? I thought, shaking off the very thought.


I placed the Host on the paten, plum-stained and pinkened, a mirror image. I lifted the chalice. It was after One Life to Live but before Oprah; the time of day when most of the guys napped. I myself was not feelingso well. The sores in my mouth made it difficult to speak;I had to keep using the toilet. The skin around my eyes,stained by Kaposi sarcoma, had swollen to the point where I could barely see.

I sometimes lay on my back and picturedwhat an opportunistic infection looked like, breaching thebarriers of my immune system: The door was left wide open. Suddenly, I saw a fishing line whiz into the narrow space beneath my cell door. We trade magazines; we barter food; we pay for drugs. Wired to the end of his line was a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. Gum can be used as putty to build all sorts of things, and to tamper with locks. I swallowed, and felt my throat nearly split along a fault line.

No one went out of their way to acknowledge him, much less offer him something as precious as a piece of gum. Shay waited for Joey to take the gum, and then pulled his line gently closer, until it was within reach of Calloway. Maybe you can split it with a friend.

TL;DL (Too Long; Didn’t Listen)

But to divvy up one single piece among seven greedy men? I reached for the small wrapped packet on the end of the lines. Since six other men had already done the same, I expected to see only a fragment remaining, a smidgen of gum, if anything at all — yet, to my surprise, the piece of Bazooka was intact. I ripped the gum in half and put a piece into my mouth.

I watched it zip away, back to his own cell. At first I could barely stand it — the sweetness against the sores in my mouth; the sharp edges of the gum before it softened. It brought tears to my eyes to so badly want something that I knew would cause great pain. I held up my hand, ready to spit the gum out, when the most remarkable thing happened: My jaw moved, rhythmic. We were silent for so long that CO Whitaker came in to see what we were up to; and what he found, of course, was not what he had expected. Seven men, blowing bubbles as bright as the moon.

For the first time in nearly six months, I slept through the night. I woke up rested and relaxed, without any of the stomach-knotting that usually consumed me for the first two hours of every day. I walked to the basin, squeezed toothpaste onto the stubby brush they gave us, and glanced up at the wavy sheet of metal that passed for a mirror. The sores, the Kaposi sarcoma that had spotted my cheeks and inflamed my eyelids for a year now, were gone.

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My skin was clear as a river. I leaned forward for a better look. I opened up my mouth, tugged my lower lip, searching for the blisters and cankers that had kept me from eating. Officer Whitaker was shocked enough at my improved appearance to call the nurse himself. I was taken into the attorney-client cell so that she could draw my blood, and an hour later, she came back to tell me what I already knew.

He took one piece of gum, and made it enough for all of us. I want to donate it, after I die. Lucius wrote her name down for me. The nurse hesitated, and then her voice went soft, the flannel-bound way she used to speak to me, when the pain was so great that I could not see past it. It is an odd thing to be watching television and know that in reality, it is happening right outside your door.

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Crowds had flooded the parking lot of the prison. Camping out on the stairs of the parole office entrance were folks in wheelchairs, elderly women with walkers, mothers clutching sick infants to their chests. There were gay couples, mostly one man supporting another frail, ill partner; and crackpots holding up signs with scriptural references about the end of the world. Lining the street that led past the cemetery and downtown, were the news vans — local affiliates, and even a crew from Fox in Boston.

Right now, a reporter from ABC 22 was interviewing a young mother whose son had been born with severe neurological damage. She stood beside the boy, in his motorized wheelchair, one hand resting on his forehead. The reporter faced the camera. I yanked my headphones down to my neck. Suddenly two officers arrived, escorting someone we rarely saw: A burly man with a flat-top on which you could have served dinner, he stood beside the cell while Officer Whitaker told Shay to strip.

His scrubs were shaken out, and then he was allowed to dress again before he was shackled to the wall across from our cells.

Chuck Swindoll - The Mystery of God's Will (Evening Service)

They ripped his mattress, balled up his sheets. They ran their hands along the edges of his sink, his toilet, his bunk. I know about mind control, Bourne. Officer Whitaker stepped closer.

Not even in his mattress.